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Gas flat-lines as crude oil increases slightly

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Falling gas prices could soon level out going into the holiday season, according to data released by AAA Auto Club South.

Conservative demand has kept regular unleaded gas prices at $1.66 for a national average and at $1.52 in metro Atlanta. Statewide, the average gasoline price is $1.56 for reglar, unleaded.

Today, in metro Atlanta, a person can buy more than two and a half gallons of gas for what he or she paid in September for one gallon.

Crude oil on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), however, gained $5.47 per barrel, as the Dec. 12 closing price climbed to $46.28, after closing the previous week at $40.81.

Despite the increase in the NYMEX price for crude, OPEC is scheduled to meet Wednesday in Algeria to discuss another production cut, possibly as much as two million barrels per day. The oil producers are determined to establish a "floor" for crude oil prices, which many analysts say is extremely difficult to accomplish during a recession with little consumer demand.

"If OPEC members agree to a two-million-barrel reduction, we can expect to see crude prices move slightly higher on Wednesday. However, any increase for that reason alone may not be sustainable," said Gregg Laskoski, spokesman for AAA Auto Club South. "OPEC's attempts to curb production do not carry the threat they once did simply because they rarely achieve full compliance."

According to a report last week from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Americans drove more than 100 billion fewer miles between November 2007 and October 2008 than in the same period a year prior.

In the past week, gasoline prices in Georgia have fallen by 10 cents on average. Fuel prices are expected to continue to decline this week as the nation's gasoline supply remains ample, and demand is flat.

Officials are watching closely to see how retail gas prices will be affected by the news that OPEC will reduce production. So far, the decline in crude oil prices has been good for consumers and retail stores which provide the gas.

"When people have more disposable income, they are able to spend more in our store," said Mike Thornbrugh, spokesman for QuikTrip Corporation. "People are saving an average of $30-$50. With the additional money that they have now, people are making bigger purchases than they were six months ago."

QuikTrip is one of the retailers whose gasoline has been among the cheapest in metro Atlanta. The company, which has experienced stable growth throughout record-high gas prices, expects to grow by 19 stores within the next year. Three of those stores will open in Georgia, according to the company.